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ESC Rights & Sustainable Development

ESC Rights & Sustainable Development

ESC Rights & Sustainable Development


Summary of the Day of General Discussion on the General Comment on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Sustainable Development.

On 24 February 2023, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights held a day of general discussion on sustainable development to inform the drafting of the forthcoming general comment on this topic. This day was an opportunity for the Committee to hear from various experts on the linkages between sustainable development and Covenant rights. 

The Committee began the process of developing this general comment in 2018 by drafting an issues paper, which was translated into four languages. Based on the findings of this paper, in 2021 and 2022 the Committee held five regional consultations, three children’s consultations and one consultation in Geneva. These consultations have provided the drafting group with valuable contributions on the content and scope of the general comment.

Held in a hybrid format, the day began with an introductory session from the Committee’s chair, Mohamed Ezzeldin Abdel-Moneim; an outline of the purpose of the general comment by Committee member, Michael Windfuhr; and a summary of the key themes from the preceding consultations from Megan Donald, research consultant for the drafting group. This was followed by four thematic panels. Each panel concluded with a question and answer session, allowing for input from participants in the room as well as those joining online.

The first panel was on the implications of sustainable development on key doctrines and state obligations. First, Sandra Liebenberg, former Committee member, spoke about the doctrines of minimum core obligations and progressive realisation, with a focus on inequality between individuals, groups and states. The Committee then heard from Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and member of the Club of Rome, who spoke about the limits of growth within planetary boundaries. Laura Santocoloma from Dejusticia then spoke about the link between maximum available resources and sustainability, introducing the notion of “maximum sustainable resources”. Finally, Aoife Nolan, Professor of International Human Rights Law and Co-Director of the Human Rights Law Centre at the University of Nottingham, spoke on the importance of mainstreaming children’s rights and integrating the principle of intergenerational justice.

The second panel was on the theme of sustainable development from different perspectives. The Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Mikiko Otani, started the panel by speaking about the forthcoming general comment on children and climate change by the Committee of the Rights of the Child. Filling in for Fons Coomans, Sandra Liebenberg then spoke about the Maastricht Principles on the Rights of Future Generations. This was followed by a presentation on climate change and economic, social and cultural rights by Judith Bueno De Mesquita, Senior Lecturer and Co-Deputy Director of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex. Finally, Salma Zia, a member of the Coordination Committee of the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples Mechanism for relations with the United Nations Committee on World Food Security, spoke on indigenous peoples, peasants, pastoralists, and other people living in rural areas, including small-holders and family farmers.

In the third panel the links between sustainable development and the right to development, labour standards and poverty were addressed. The panel began with a presentation from Tim de Meyer, Senior Adviser in the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) International Labour Standards Department, about labour standards and collaboration in the UN system from the perspective of the ILO. Mihir Kanade from the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development then spoke about the link between the right to development and sustainable development. Finally, the Committee heard from Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. His presentation was focused on demystifying the incompatibility between the transition toward sustainability and the combating of extreme poverty and inequality.
The final panel considered the implications of sustainable development for Covenant rights. First, Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights, spoke about the relationship between sustainable development, cultural rights, and science. The Committee then heard from the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fakhri, who presented on the right to an adequate standard of living with a particular focus on the right to food. The final presentation was on the link between sustainable development and the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, presented by David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment.

Following this day of general discussion, the drafting group will work on the first draft of the general comment to be completed later in 2023. This first draft will then be made available to the public for comment. The inputs received will inform the revised draft of the General Comment No. 27 on Sustainable Development.
For further information on the process for the development of the General Comment and opportunities to engage with the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights you may visit the following website

*To watch the recording of the full meeting, click on this link: 19th Meeting, 73rd Session, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) | UN Web TV 

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